Ethics 101: Retired Folsom Sergeant’s cautionary tale

Aug 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Ethics, Spotlight

The truth will set you free-Dishonesty will get you free time to explore other career opportunities…

Be True to Yourself And Let Your Conscious Be Your Guide

By Keeley. A. Stevens, Sgt.  Folsom State Prison (Retired)

I began my career as a Correctional Peace Officer on December 27, 1982 at Folsom Prison. I quickly found out that The California Department of Corrections was the most unorganized organization I had ever seen. There was no consistency and all decisions seemed to be discretionary and political, if you know what I mean. It was quite a contrast to the U.S. Air Force that I had just gotten out of two and a half years earlier where everything was consistent, organized, disciplined and “in order”.

I initially thought that CDC was a huge joke and wanted to get the hell out as soon as I could! But the money was good and as most do, I got caught up in the financial end of things and started chasing the all mighty dollar. Still thinking that CDC was a joke as far as an “organization”, I continued my “career” and pretty soon many years had gone by.

Over the years I had seen a lot of what I would consider “corruption”, but I was never directly involved in it. I had seen lot of favoritism towards “the chosen few” and good looking women Officers/staff, not to mention the nepotism. Many other forms of “corruption” occurred but none that ever directly involved me. I always wondered to myself, if I WAS ever directly involved, what would I do? Well, here is my story and after reading it, ask yourself what you would do:

It was July 30, 2005 and I was so looking forward to retiring on my 50th birthday in November of 2006. I was the Outside Patrol Sergeant on 3rd Watch at Folsom Prison. The temperatures in the summer at Folsom Prison are well into the 100’s and the Entrance Gate had never had an air conditioner installed in the many years I had been there. I drove out to the Folsom Minimum Support Facility or “the camp” as we called it to fill out a work order to try to get A/C installed. As I began to fax the work order I heard the Camp Sgt. over the radio call for a Code One response to the camp. In CDC there is three main levels of emergency response, Code One, Code Two and Code Three, with Code Three being the most urgent and requiring all available staff to respond. As I looked out the window of the office, I observed several inmates running into the back of 1100 dorm. I immediately pulled out my can of pepper spray and began running towards 1100 dorm ordering all inmates in the area to get down as I did. As I entered the dorm I observed several inmates in a melee in the middle of the dorm. I responded to the middle of the dorm, ordering all inmates to get down and discharged my entire can of pepper spray into the crowd. I did not observe any other staff in the immediate area and realizing that, I backed out of the dorm. As I got outside other groups of inmates were converging on the area and each other and I again ordered them to get down on the ground threatening to spray them with my can of pepper spray. Of course the can was empty but they didn’t know that and most of them complied. I realized that almost no other staff had responded because the Camp was on a different frequency than inside the walls of the prison. I quickly changed radio channels and called for a Code Two and Code Three responses.

Now that was pretty much the entire incident and is what my report reflected. I did not, in my report, identify any specific inmate that was involved. Now I understand that not identifying any inmate may not have been appropriate, but that will have to be another argument for another day.

Let’s fast forward to nearly two weeks later as I was standing outside the Entrance Gate at the end of 3rd Watch.

At that time, the Lt., or Lt. #1 as I will call her, who was the Incident Commander, walked past me on her way out of the prison and stated, “By the way, you did six 115’s on that incident at the Camp.” CDC Form 115 is an Inmate Discipline Report. I responded by saying, “I did? Shouldn’t I review them and sign them?” She stated, “No. That has already been taken care of”. She then continued towards her car in the parking lot.

Anyone who knew me at the time knows that I write my own reports and most of the time I do a pretty good job of it. I have ALWAYS written my own reports and to me, it is a matter of honesty and integrity no matter what type of report it is. I always prided myself on honesty and having the integrity to stand up to any scrutiny. So needless to say, when this Lt. told me that six 115’s had been written and supposedly authored by me, I was pretty upset by it. Later I discovered that, not only had these 115’s been written by this Lt., she had also signed MY NAME to them as if I was the one who actually signed them!

Like I said, I was really looking forward to retiring the next year so deciding what to do about this, what I again would call “corruption”, took a lot of thinking. Meanwhile, as the disciplinary process continued, I received a call at home from the Senior Hearing Officer, Lt. #2, a well liked and respected Lt. who was conducting a 115 hearing on one of the inmates. He asked me how I identified the inmate as being involved. I had to tell him that I did not write the 115 and that Lt. #1 wrote it and signed my name to it. He acknowledged that and that was the end of the conversation. The very next day, an Officer approached me at the Entrance Gate telling me that he was assigned as the Investigative Officer assigned to one of the inmates who received one of these 115’s. He asked me a group of questions that the inmate wanted asked. (In CDC, if an inmate is locked up in segregation and is not able to find and ask a question of “witnesses” to what he has received a 115 for, he is assigned an Investigative Officer who finds the witness’s and asks them questions on behalf of the inmate). I told this Officer, Correctional Officer #1, the same thing I had told the Senior Hearing Officer the day before, that I didn’t write the 115’s and that Lt. #1 had wrote them and signed my name to them. I told him I did not have answers for any of his questions.

As time went on and I continued to debate as to how I should handle this situation, I discovered that the Senior Hearing Officer found most of the inmates involved guilty and assessed them 90 days loss of credit. I also discovered that the Investigative Officer, Correctional Officer #1, had pretty much answered all the questions for me in his report as if I had actually responded to the questions from the inmate.

Now things are really getting complex and this situation is growing worse. It was then that realized I had to be true to myself and l let my conscience be my guide. I knew this was corruption, was wrong and certainly isn’t the way we in CDC conduct business.

Many would say, “What the hell. It’s only inmates.” For me, again, it goes back to honesty and integrity. I had prided myself my entire career on my honesty and my integrity and here I was, a year to retirement and this situation had compromised everything that I stood for all these years.

So, after thinking very hard and very long, I took the only step that was available to me and that was to report it to the Custody Captain who in turn, ordered me to write it down in a report and he submitted it to Internal Affairs for investigation.

It was not an easy decision for me to make and it was a decision that I didn’t want to make. I knew that very good people would get hurt if the investigation was conducted correctly and was complete.

The following is the result of this investigation and other factors affecting the individuals involved:

Chief Deputy Warden:- Forced to retire
Associate Warden: —–Terminated/fired
Correctional Captain: –Terminated/fired
Correctional Lt.#1: ——Terminated/fired
Correctional Lt.#2: ——Terminated/fired
Correctional Officer: —-Terminated/fired

It should be noted that Correctional Lt. #2 and the Correctional Officer were reinstated due to Administrative errors in the investigation.

Now ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. In the end, I had to be true to myself and let my conscience be my guide. I hope you would too.

I know that a lot of times we tend to get lazy and sign each other’s reports and if you do that, make sure you sign your own name and indicate that you are signing for the author of the report. Personally, I wouldn’t even do that. I would ALWAYS make sure that you sign and author your own reports. Follow your supervisor’s advice about what to include and the format for your report, but make sure you author and sign it. If not, things can get pretty complicated as you can see.

Thanks to Keeley Stevens for an excellent contribution. Paco, like Sergeant Stevens, wrote his own reports. Of course, in those days it was the practice to take the best report (mine) and alter the reports of other officers to match. So, my fellow CO’s were often required to sign off on reports they didn’t actually write. Then, as now, I recommended retaining a copy of the original, hand written report–If nothing else you can prove you submitted a factual report and assert duress in being coerced to sign off.

Paco welcomes submissions from active and retired corrections employees and concerned citizens. Active correctional officers are reassured, confidentiality is guaranteed–If you need anonymity, you shall have it. Paco cannot be compelled to divulge sources to CDCR. –

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8 Comments to “Ethics 101: Retired Folsom Sergeant’s cautionary tale”

  1. Helen says:

    I ѕeldom leave comments, but і dіԁ sοme sеarсhing and
    wound uр heгe Ethics 101: Retired Folsom Sergeant

  2. Fred says:

    It happened to me at CMF. I was working 1st watch when I saw what I believed to be two inmates attempting to escape. I alerted the Watch Commander, the two inmates were removed from the cell, and I stayed late the next morning writing my report. A few days later a Lt. brought me my reports to sign but I refused. The reports she had given me to sign were not the reports I had written. She threatened me by asking “Should we discuss this in the Captain’s office?” to which I replied “Let’s go”. In the Captain’s office I again refused to sign the reports. Several days later I was asked by yet another Lt. to sign the report and I again refused. It was then that I learned that the reports had been signed with my name by another person. The signed reports had downplayed the incident and the attempted escape was made something else. That was years ago and to this day I still have to reports I wrote along with the pictures I took. And the higher ups involved? They were promoted.

  3. Centurion says:

    And then there was that FEMA training debacle. Where we were given blank scantrons, told which bubbles to fill in, told to sign our names to them, and told to turn them in. We never got any training whatsoever. This happened on a state wide level at many facilities and locations, so it had to come from pretty high up the chain. It amounted to outright fraud against the federal government over a grant for training where no actual training ever took place. After the story broke, many of us who had not turned our forms in were visited at our work sites by supervisors who gave us “on site training” and told to fill out the forms.

    My guess is that nobody was ever terminated over that one either. It came from too high up.

    PACO and Sgt Stevens are…in my opinion…performing a service by writing, and posting these kinds of stories. Newer and seasoned employees alike are prone to do what thery are told to do by administrators and supervisors, even when it doesn’t seem right. They do this out of a willingness to please and out of fear of retaliation.

    Doing the ethical thing will piss people off sometimes. It can put you in a tough position. It can cost you your job. The question can be…would you rather lose your job for doing the RIGHT thing…or for doing the WRONG thing? Because once things come out in the open your options are pretty much over.

  4. Capn Crunch says:

    While at COR-SHU we had an incident involving a well known gang inmate. I did about a two paragraph report since I was the Sgt. in charge and completed the 837. Gave it to the Lt. who was well known and popular to finish. About a month later I was called to the IA Capt’s office for an interview. He showed me the report I had made and asked me if that is what I had wrote. I said no. Since he had been my Lt prior to his promo to Capt he knew my writing style. He told me to go back to work and he would take care of the problem. Never found out if my report was changed back or why the Lt changed it and what happened to him. Just know there was one good Capt around.

  5. Centurion says:

    As a VR cop with all of about 4 years in I was once called to testify at a board of prison terms hearing for an inmate who was going to parole (or not). At issue was a 115 I had written six months earlier wherein the inmate had been the victim of an assault by his cellie after we had locked down for the night. My report was read, and I was asked if it was accurate. It was, right up untill the last paragraph. It stated that the victim had resisted my partner and I when the cell door was opened and then again while we escorted him to the program office. Such was not the case.

    Since I was off to another unit the next day, our supervisor had added that last paragraph and then signed the report for me, with a notation that he had done so. I felt badly about it making him look bad, but I never heard anything afterwords, by the sgt or by anyone else. And I left the hearing with a clear concience.

    In my case, nobody got terminated, or even repremanded, as far as I know. Sgt Stevens did the right thing. We may have little or no control over the actions and statements of others, but we do have control over our own.

  6. kl2008a says:

    and who was it that held an office upon high in the puzzle palace that was forced to leave office due to signing someone elses signature on several adverse actions to deny some staff’s livelihood out of SVSP a few years back?

  7. Bob Walsh says:

    Sgt. Steven’s case was exceptionally egregious in scope, but not terribly unusual in general. In my last couple of years at DVI I got jacked up over one incident report and two memos that had my name on them and what was supposed to be my signature but which I in fact had not generated. Since no inmates got jacked up over them there was no severe negative fallout, and I don’t think there was any evil intent on at least two of the three incidents. The attitude demonstrated by the process, however, was common with some people within the system, including some people at fairly high levels. I am not sure I would call it corruption, maybe not even misconduct most of the time, but it was sure convenience and expedience at the cost of honesty.

  8. Gadfly says:

    Sergeant Stevens,

    The truth is the truth and stands, too often, alone. And as your story entailed, the absence of it created a huge lie that was bound to hurt others, no matter how big that lie grew. I commend you for doing the right thing in an ugly situation. Misconduct and corruption are ugly twin sisters, and too many people are willing to jump into bed with them (for the sake of convenience and expediency) without considering their integrity and reputation. The risk to yourself, career, as well as peer and command pressure in the fallout of telling the truth is not to be understated either.

    I hope Folsom was a better institution to work in afterward because of your actions.

    Well done!